Tuesday, 30 October 2018

Special review: "Best Gift Ever"

Yeah, yeah, I'm pathetically weak. But come on
Although S8 of Friendship is Magic is now over and done with, there's one more piece of related business to get out of the way before we enter what will probably be the last ever FiM inter-season hiatus. "Best Night Gift Ever" marks the first time the show has had a special, which is odd considering how popular it's been. You'd think they'd have made one a few years ago. Still... this was written by Michael Vogel, and given that his strong record includes the fabulous "A Hearth's Warming Tail" I had high hopes. In the event...

...while I don't think "Best Gift Ever" was quite that good, I do think it provided something very suitable for a holiday special. It was fairly easy watching, with plenty of fan service that nevertheless didn't derail the plot. (Vogel's "Stranger Than Fan Fiction" also did this well.) There was the requisite touch of magic (beyond the usual) with the reindeer, and the Mane Six and Spike were at the centre of things. The adjective that most comes to mind is "warm-hearted", and that will do me very nicely.

With 44 minutes to play with without a serious villain (well, unless you count the pudding!), there was time for everypony to get a reasonable amount of screen time without things feeling too rushed. My favourite subplot was probably the Rarity/Pistachio one, which gave Rarity a good chance to display her generosity. I'd rather like to think we might get at least a brief reference to Pistachio in S9; perhaps he could get a job working for Coco (who's dropped out of sight rather)?

No opening sequence, just this mildly animated title card
Sparity is something that some people love, some people detest... and here I am somewhat in the middle. I do rather feel it's something that should have run its course by this point, especially now Spike is getting older, but oh well. His ensuring Rarity was his Hearthswarming Helper recipient was enormously predictable, but I guess it's another thing that I can let slide for a holiday special. Also, none of them pulling themselves from the HH hat and having to go again? Hmm.

Since we're on the subject of hats, it now seems to be the case that the fandom was right all along when it treated Applejack's Stetson as a family heirloom. Where this leaves the Hats and Bows Closet from S4 is a good question. I've cobbled together a quick headcanon for this, which is: yes, Applejack does have a load of hats – she must get through plenty in her line of work – but she also has this one, which appears only on special occasions. Like Hearth's Warming!

It was interesting to see Discord paired up with Rainbow Dash for most of his time on screen. Those two haven't interacted very much, which is odd given how close Fluttershy is to him. Still, it worked pretty well this time, though frankly I am getting fed up with the draconequus's S8 tendency to put creatures in danger; Dash's curtailed outburst at him had my support. "It all worked out okay" is not good enough when you risk Flutters' safety, Discord.

"You know what, I think I'll splash out on a custom this year"
I wasn't entirely keen on Fluttershy's characterisation. Until about the last third, she seemed to have regressed by several seasons; it was hard to swallow her being that naive when being scammed, especially given that she and AJ had come up against Flim and Flam together in "Viva Las Pegasus". 'Shy's S4-era timidity did thankfully wear off once the winterchilla/zilla came into play, and I did enjoy the act she put on with Applejack in Rainbow Falls, while her "Don't do that" to AJ late on made me chuckle.

Flim and Flam were actually fairly amusing in their scam, though I am beginning to feel that they're wearing a little thin given how much they've appeared in the last three seasons. There were some gentle, and gently amusing, jabs at the commercialism of (human) Christmas: "Commercialism is the greatest gift of all!" insists the dodgy, poorly made plushie. Anyone else reminded of the infamous "My wings are so pretty!" line from the Pinklestia toy all those years ago?

Right, on to the reindeer. It's fairly well known that Lauren Faust wanted a story about sapient deer back in S1, but that she was stymied by Hasbro's desires. Seven years on, in a very different form, we finally get them! I liked them, and felt they were just the sort of magical characters that work well in a special like this, though they might not have done in a regular episode. Their names – Aurora/Bori/Alice – were a work of genius, too. Will we see them again? Honestly, I doubt it.

The Gift Givers of the Grove (grove sold separately)
We got a couple of songs this time, both of which I found okay but nothing special. Neither of them stuck in my head. We also got a lot of continuity nods and fanservice, and I don't only mean Twilight's memetastic Pudding! faces. Lyra and Bon Bon, Vinyl and Octavia, that jelly pony, Flutters' iffy knitting, Grand Pear, a mention of Scorpan... it goes on. Also plenty of references, from Charlie Brown's Christmas tree to Flurry Heart's Maggie-style coat to a Discord-inspired G. I. Joe scene.

And then there was Derpy. She talked for the first time (in FiM) since "Slice of Life", and her post office scene was important as it set up Rarity's meeting with Pistachio. However, I wasn't entirely comfortable with how Derpy was shown this time around. Her voice had noticeably changed, and to my mind the "Slice of Life" one was nicer. More seriously, she seemed to have veered a little too far from "adorably klutzy" towards "slow-witted", even allowing for the pressures of the season.

It was nice to see a few characters who haven't had much to do this season, namely the Crystal Empire's royal family. I think this may even have been Shining Armor's first appearance since S7, and so it was satisfying that he got to do a little bit of actioneering when the pudding! was taking over Twilight's castle. I'm not sure the writers even now really know what to do with Flurry Heart, though. My major disappointment here was the lack of Cheerilee, who has been neglected throughout S8.

Remember when Rarity hated green hair? Sweet Apple Acres remembers
I haven't tried to touch on everything that happened in "Best Gift Ever", as that would have made this review at least twice as long. Apart from anything else, I'm not sure this particular special would be more enjoyable if I did spent ages minutely dissecting it. To me, this thing has parallels with the Christmas specials we get from the likes of Doctor Who: it's not something to be taken too seriously, but is instead a good-natured dose of sweetness. And on that score, I think it succeeded.

Poor, poor Marble Pie, though. And sorry, Flutters, but I'm not changing this blog's title. I've been saying "yay" since before you existed. I have grandfather rights. :P

Best quote: Inevitably, it's Twilight's "PUDDING!"

Yays
  • A warm, seasonally-appropriate dollop of magical friendship
  • Pretty well paced, with lots happening but little sense of rushing
  • Centred on the Mane Six (and Spike) and gave them all things to do
  • The Pistachio/Rarity subplot was heart-warming
  • Lots of fanservice, but generally unobtrusively so
  • Fluttershy – in the last few minutes
Neighs
  • Fluttershy – until the last few minutes
  • The whole Sparity thing is getting very tired now
  • Derpy's portrayal made me feel slightly uncomfortable
  • The songs were nowhere near those of "A Hearth's Warming Tail"
★★★★

17 comments:

  1. Well done sir. I'm very surprised about the spectacularly positive reception this special is getting, but IMO it deserves it all. It's a perfect sum up of what always made FiM so great. It really hit all the good note..... The only thing I'm worried is that despite the overwhelming positive reception (and it was VERY positive) the only two people who hated it (RailfanBrony and Dark Qiviut.... and I'm not talking about just in the reviewers field, they are LITTERALLY the only two people that hated it that I've seen...) are VERY vocal with their opinions, and I'm afraid that they could break the general positivity around it.... I really hope to be wrong sir...

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    1. worried [...] afraid

      Don't be. If two reviewers don't like it, then it means that... two reviewers don't like it. Well, big deal, frankly. With very rare exceptions like the awful "Non-Compete Clause", there's going to be a spread of opinions on every episode (or special, or movie) that appears. Take the rough with the smooth and you'll be fine. :)

      Also, despite the change of username I'm pretty sure from your writing style who you are. Just saying.

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    2. I'm mostly feel sorry for them and the other few people who didn't like (whoever they are). To me this special is THE masterpiece of FiM. It's one of the funniest productions to date and presents also several emotional moments. I think it's REALLY hard to not laught at the jokes or to not smile to the cute moments, if someone didn't like this production, I'm afraid they will never be able to smile again... I will give a pass to Dark Qiviut because at least he praised what he could (althought if I may... he was WAY too hard on many things, like panning the whole Rarity arc, IMO the best in the bunch, only because he strongly hated the Derpy part...). Railfan's on the other hand... that was one of the worst written reviews I've ever read in my entire life. I really feel sorry for him... I just hope those reviews won't be too much influential....

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    3. Care to explain why my review is poorly written, or are you just afraid that some people are encouraging others to think for themselves?

      There is nothing interesting about the special; it could be a 22 minute episode and nothing would change. If it had aired five years earlier, I'd be more forgiving, but since it aired now, it's a sign that the show, however good it is, needs to end. However you slice it, it's a bland, paint-by-numbers ratings trap. Heck, it was obvious before it aired that it was going to be a paint-by-numbers.

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    4. You see? You're doing it again: you didn't argument your reasons at all, you only claimed all the references to past episode were "lazy writing". You just panned the special for what it was: a true homage to everything that always made the show great in the first place. The jokes and the moments are good recalls to several past moments of the series, and they are fitted very well (as Logan explained here, unlike Slice of Life, the pandering here is not too loud, there is the right amount of it). You didn't do fair criticism in your review, you just panned it for no reason. Also: 1/10? Seriously? That's stupid. And for goodness sake: stop going all around the place claiming your "opinion" is objective, trying to change people's mind on this special. I've seen what you did on the comments of the episode on the Wikia. The show is about to end next year regardless, but you just can't go everywhere spreading loudly your opinion only because you weren't able to enjoy this. You had no right.

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    5. At the risk of exacerbating things, he has every right.

      Review tends to come off as opinions stated like fact. They have more weight that way. But just because one -- or in this case, two -- people write an article about how they didn't like a thing, that doesn't mean droves will follow them. And even if they did, not liking an episode is not the death of the show, or the fandom, or whatever it is you're afraid of.

      Chill. It's okay. It's fine that this guy didn't like the special. Heck, I liked it and I agree with a number of things he said in the above comment. It's okay to like things, and it's okay to not like things.

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    6. Admin post (oh, the feeling of power being able to do that gives me! :D )

      Zack Warner: I'm assuming you're The Railfan Brony; please accept my apologies and correct me if I'm wrong.

      I am absolutely fine with someone writing a negative review of something I enjoyed. I would be utterly hypocritical if I weren't, given that I've written enough reviews over the years myself, including some that also took a more negative view than most of the fandom's. Do I have a problem with The Railfan Brony's negative assessment of this special? Nope. Not at all.

      The Railfan Brony's opinion on "Best Gift Ever" is not the same as mine. As you'll have read above I enjoyed it a lot, despite its predictable nature, and would happily watch it again for fun. I doubt he would. But honestly, I would be bored to tears if every reviewer said the same thing. I like reading opinions that clash with mine, all the more so when they give me things to think about.

      Besides, not everyone wants the same thing from their MLP. I'm satisfied if I get 22 (or 44, in this case) minutes of – as Soge puts it below – "characters I like interacting in interesting ways", and I was happy with "Best Gift Ever" on that score. Other people weren't, and some others again still miss the style of FiM from its early seasons, which started to disappear somewhere around about S4.

      Meta-X: You are welcome to take a different view of an episode, fanfic, etc from me or from anyone else. That is not the issue. What is an issue is that on several occasions now, you have got so worked up about this that you've either bumped up against or actually crossed the line dividing fair comment on a review from a personal attack on that review's creator. Don't do that. Just don't.

      Also, please don't misrepresent my own opinions. Taken from your comment:

      as Logan explained here, unlike Slice of Life, the pandering here is not too loud

      That implies that I was annoyed by the "pandering" in "Slice of Life", which is not true. I gave "Slice of Life" five stars, a higher rating than "Best Gift Ever", and I don't regret doing so. I wouldn't have liked a regular episode doing it, but I felt that "Slice of Life" was a special case.

      In short, what Present Perfect said. His last paragraph especially.

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  2. I thought Derpy's voice was different! Agreeing with you that SoL's voice was better. Also, I actually liked Fluttershy in this, but maybe that's just me. :B

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    1. I thought she was great once the winterchilla/zilla appeared, but far too timid earlier, especially given her previous experience of the FlimFlams.

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  3. This episode was a very welcome surprise. After feeling severely let down by S8 in general, particularly the finale, this made me feel enthusiastic for pony all over again, just a solid 40-odd minutes of characters I like interacting in interesting ways. It may actually have convinced me to give S9 a chance, as a matter of fact.

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    1. I rather liked S8 overall, up-and-down as it was, so I'm not in quite your position here, but I did find it harked back a bit to the old days. The Mane Six-plus-Spike focus, the lack of a real Big Bad, the domestic/family stuff, and so on.

      As for S9? I'm on the ride until it stops, and probably for a long time beyond that, come what may. I'm just hoping the final season is a doozy.

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  4. Aww, i want more specials like this: ;3 It took us 8 seasons to have a pony special (not any EQG specials).

    And this show is going to end...
    *crying in the corner*

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    1. I also find it a bit odd that it took so long. The S4/S5 hiatus was almost a year long -- okay, we got Rainbow Rocks and work on the movie had begun, but a Friendship is Magic special in that gap would have been very welcome.

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  5. > More seriously, she seemed to have veered a little too far from "adorably klutzy" towards "slow-witted"

    To me it sounded more like "high as a pegasus", which would make a little more sense given the "pressures of the season" as you put it, but I also thought it was a noticeable step down from her voice in "Slice of Life".

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    1. I think Tabitha nailed it in "Slice of Life", so maybe I'm just disappointed it wasn't more of the same. Still, I've rewatched Derpy's scene now and I feel as I did before. It's not awful, but I wish it had been better.

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    2. My reaction is 'Derpy, YOU ARE FIRED!'.
      Derpy in this special didnt try to be helpful at all, nap time~!

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